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  • Athol Candlish

Neck Pain and Stiffness - What's causing it?

  • Are you wondering why your neck is so painful and stiff?

  • Has the pain and stiffness gradually come on and gotten worse?

  • Is your neck making noises it has never made before?

  • Are you concerned about your neck?

If you are feeling frustrated with your neck pain it is completely understandable and we often see this in patients in the clinic who have these symptoms.

There is positive news for you. There are many things that can be done to get rid of your pain so that you can get back to feeling 100%.

Neck pain is increasing especially with an aging and growing population. Approximately two thirds of people experience neck pain at some point in their lives. Surprisingly middle aged people are the most common age group to succumb to neck pain. Neck pain is the second most seen musculoskeletal complaint seen in clinical practice (behind lower back pain).

So what are some of the most common neck complaints we see day to day?

Muscle strains

  • Muscular strains and tightness of the neck is something we see on a daily basis. Muscular tightness and strains are very common amongst adolescents as well as young adults and middle aged people. Many things can contribute to muscle strains and tightness, however a general lack of movement and poor posture are often part of the issue. Additionally sleeping postures (too many pillows or too little pillows) can also be a causative factor for these discomforts.

Stress related neck pain

  • Something we regularly see in people that have neck pain is that it is often ignited by high levels of stress. It seems that when their stress levels are high due to work or events taking place in their lives that their neck begins to become painful. Often we will see headaches associated with this complaint.

Joint stiffness

  • Joint stiffness or arthritis is an extremely common issue in neck pain. This is more commonly seen amongst people who are over 50 years of age. However it can be seen in people who have had previous traumatic injuries to the neck or shoulder regions. Often people will complain of increasing stiffness in the morning, as well as cracking or popping noises. Muscular stiffness often accompanies the joint stiffness.

Neck Disc irritation

  • Discs are structures that separate each of the neck bones called your vertebrae. Discs provide shock absorption for your neck as well as providing it support so it can smoothly twist and rotate your neck. The disc is a gel like fluid and can become dehydrated and wear out which can place a lot more pressure on other joints of the vertebrae. Occasionally, the discs gel-like fluid can creep out of the vertebrae and can interfere with some of the nerves leaving your neck to supply your upper arm. This can lead to unusual numbness and tingling down your arm and into your arms and fingers.

Traumatic Injuries to the Neck

  • Neck pain can linger for long periods following a traumatic incident to your neck. The most common traumatic neck injury we see is whiplash injuries most often following car collisions. The neck is forcefully whipped forwards and backwards which places the ligaments and muscles on the front and back of your neck under great strain. Often these structures can become sensitised afterwards.

Warning signs

Although >95% of the neck cases we see are not serious - there are approximately 2-5% of conditions which may be potentially dangerous and in need of urgent attention. Below is a list of signs or symptoms which may indicate that you need immediate assessment.

  • Dizziness

  • Progressive loss of balance

  • Shortness of breath

  • Visual changes

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Weakness in the arms or legs

  • Numbness or tingling into the hands

  • Shooting pains down the arms

  • New onset headaches

Please do not be too alarmed if you have one of these symptoms as they are not always an indicator of a serious issue. We would just strongly advise that you if you are experiencing one or more of the following with your neck pain that you to make a prompt appointment with us or speak your local GP so you can be fully assessed.

What to expect when seeing a Physiotherapist or Osteopath?

When you are with a Physiotherapist or Osteopath the first thing they will do is ask you several questions regarding how your neck pain started, when it started, how long it has been going for as well as many other questions regarding your pain. Following this, they will get you to perform a series of movements to establish how much movement you have and to assess your pain levels. From their assessment they will map out a clear plan for the best way for you to recover which may involve a combination of:

  • Hands on treatment (massage, mobilisations, dry needling or manipulation)

  • Exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles and joints around your neck

  • Education on what you can do to manage your own pain and recovery

  • Order scans of your neck if necessary and/or refer you to another medical provider if the issue needs more urgent medical attention

If you are experiencing any neck pain or stiffness, do not hesitate to ring (03) 5872 2221 to book an assessment with any of our expert Physiotherapists or Osteopaths so that you can get on top of your neck pain issues for good!

Yours in health,


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